Sunday, August 30, 2009

happy birthday!

Lots going on recently, lots to catch up on... Today's my 35th birthday (Aug 30). It's been a jam packed weekend, including a minor shopping spree (e.g. my wallet finally disintegrated), a trip to the taste of melbourne, and a sleepover at the newly built house of our great friends Tony and Emma. Last night I started to have amazing-food fatigue due to Emma's mouth-watering fresh-picked rosemary, white bean, salt, and olive oil on toasted bread, a beetroot, cream, and Parmesan carpaccio, rafts of savory dips, building up to a homemade thick crust three-berry cheesecake. I proposed to the white bean dip, but then remembered I was already spoken for. I was also touched by the card they made for me.

I suppose there's some expectation that there'll be looking forwards and backwards on a birthday. A recent conference in Melbourne included many US researchers that I knew from before moving here. In particular, I saw my grad school advisor Soroosh for a while, which has become a rare treat.

It's cliche to say that youth is wasted on the young, but it always seems to take some distance to appreciate the exceptional opportunities I've had. Similar to my old supervisor Phil, Soroosh is a charismatic visionary, knows the technical details, and he knows how to get people to do their best individually and as a group. It's one thing to get people to work as a "team", but it's a whole other thing to spread passion that others will keep for years to come.

Don't think I'm exaggerating when I feel I've sat at the foot of masters. Occasionally without even knowing it... I remember the time that Soroosh invited some of his younger students to a lavish dinner party at his house and I sat next to Bob Corell and asked him "so uh what do you do?"... Bob is impossibly famous, often described as the George Washington of the US Global Climate Change Research Program... I had a knack for it, doing the same when Soroosh introduced me to Thomas Dunne and later James Dooge, both titans of hydrology.

Of course, everyone dreams of being 21 again, knowing what they know now. I'm coming to appreciate that not being able to go back is not something to be remorseful about, because, if anything, some never had those opportunities in the first place. Better to have those once in a lifetime experiences, I guess, than to never have them at all. Tom

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Piers in spaaace...

Ho hum, not much going on today. Just more of the ushe. Trying to remember if anything cool happened. Oh, wait... I know... I met an astronaut!!!

Piers Sellers is a famous climate scientist who is also an astronaut. He was at a GEWEX conference in Melbourne where I gave a talk this morning. He was giving the keynote speech to the plenary openning session. We got to chat at the reception tonight. His vigorous handshake and beaming smile left me a bit wondering if he had me consfused with that other Thomas "S" Pagano that works for NASA. But straight up fascinating guy.

I asked him about his space walks, I had heard that it's a life changing event. His response "mnn, not really.... Now having a kid?...Getting fired from a job? Those are life changing events.".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The road not taken

For a while now I’ve been reading “The intellectual devotional: 365 daily lessons from the seven fields of knowledge”… It’s something you read one page at a time with a quick summary of some topic, history, music, literature, philosophy etc. It’s a bit too highbrow to be of use at trivia pub quiz (the answer to one of last night’s final round questions was “Kathy Ireland”). But yesterday’s entry was so riveting I’ll include the whole thing here:

“There exists probably no American poem so frequently quoted yet so widely misinterpreted as Robert Frost’s “The road not taken”. Almost without fail, readers miss the meaning of the poem by miles, seeing it as a rosy testament to the speaker’s faith in free will and an inspiring call to defy convention and take the road “less traveled by”. But close reading reveals that the poem actually is laden with the ironic resignation for which Frost was renowned.

The point most overlooked in the poem is the utter arbitrariness of the speaker’s decision about which road to take. In describing his choice between the two paths, he emphasizes repeatedly that they were essentially identical. One path looks “as just as fair” as the other, and despite the speaker’s desire to differentiate them, he acknowledges that “the passing there/Had worn them really about the same.” On a whim, he chooses one over the other.

In the last stanza, Frost injects his trademark wry humor. The speaker admits that “ages and ages hence,” as a reminiscing old man, he will probably retell this story “with a sigh” and claim that he courageously chose the unorthodox route, the one “less traveled by.” But such a claim would be false. The speaker just finished telling us that his choice was totally arbitrary, as there was no “less traveled” path to begin with: they both “equally lay/ In leaves no step had trodden black.” Frost recognizes the human tendency to self-aggrandize, to sugarcoat the uncertainty of life, to take comfort in viewing life as a series of conscious, knowable choices between good and bad alternatives. But his ultimate point is that in reality, we have no way of knowing which path in life is best, and our decisions are just as often random, uneducated guesses”.

I can't help but picture generations of English teachers wincing through graduation speeches misinterpretting this poem.


Couldn't resist digging this one out. In 1997, I was finishing my first year of grad school in the University of Arizona department of meteorology (that summer I switched to hydrology). Biosphere 2 was nearby and had just finished the second mission of people living in it. "Biosphere 1" is the regular earth around us. Biosphere 2 was a ginormous greenhouse that was completely sealed, as an experiment to see if, for example, people could live in a similar deal on the moon.

Maybe this story is apocryphal, but I remember hearing that a worker had hidden a bottle of liquor inside the complex. It was meant as a surprise and upon discovery, there was supposed to be drunken merriment all around. Apparently things had devolved into such personal conflict that one of the Bionauts found the bottle, stashed it away and drank it in private.

Anyhow, in 1997 Columbia university had recently purchased it to turn it into something like an environmental science teaching lab. They were courting Arizona researchers to come collaborate. I got to go on a complete tour of the place, from the cavernous lungs and the living quarters to the filtration tanks in the basement (water was run over large mats of algae, to take out the carbon or something, I'm not sure). This picture is me in the master control room, sitting at what appears to be a Sun Microsystems SPARC computer.


I was looking through some old pictures from high school and found this one. Not sure of the entire story, I'd put the date at 1989 or 1990. I was in school with the subject (the jacket and tie were the school uniform). Its one in a series of photos of some friends goofing around near a corral. It's somewhere in Massachusetts I suspect but don't know where. Feels a bit like that stream of memory became a mental oxbow.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


We're going through a massive windstorm right now. There have been gusts of 90 km per hour (55 mph) out at the coast. All day the apartment has been creaking and it almost sounds like things are being blown off the roof.

I'm a big fan of Andrew Watkins' weather page that shows the current temperature and forecasts for melbourne. However I think this page is also fantastic, all you'd want to look at for melbourne's weather for the last week.

One thing caught my eye today. Down in the far corner of the weekly summary there was this:

Tomorrow will have two more minutes of sunshine than today. Sweet! How's that for simple pleasures?

Christine is sleeping. Her snoring sounds like a lumber mill. If we had a pet, I think it might be scared right now.... Speaking of which, here's a nugget of data- old men snore more. Who knew?

50 cent

A while ago I wrote some posts about australian money, including the wallet busting 50 cent pieces.

I've come across some more...

2004 50 cent piece... Designed by a student. A koala, wombat and cockatoo. No kittens though, sorry...

(inside joke... read the above posts)

And then there's 2005's 60th anniversary of the end of World War II 50 cent piece...Unusual to see a lot of empty space on a coin.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Devilish Tasmania

In Tasmania, we visited a Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary. Apparently about half the devil population has been wiped off the island due to a mouth cancer epidemic. They develop ulcers that spread across their entire heads and eventually starve to death - horrid. They're pretty cute little devils and you'd think they'd give a good cuddle...though they tend to be some labile mood wise. Ah, I've found my people. :) Oddly, they look almost identical to my little half Chihuahua / half foxy terrier dog friend, Ollie. Hmmm.
The park also had a bird show. We're not huge bird fans, actually. I'm afraid of pigeons and seagulls (same as any kind of airborne balls in team sports - meh) - they smack of "flying rats" to me. The giant emu's and cassowaries here are pretty impressive though. Anyway, we met another cool bird at the devil park, a Tawny Frogmouth. Although it looks somewhat like an owl, it doesn't catch prey with its has long pokey whiskers on its face and it just sits still and waits for some yummy morsel to present itself around its mouth....effortless snacking - now there's a species I can relate to.

Speedboat trip to Tasman island with our new friend from the US, Rick.... rough seas, lots of seal spotting, they loaned us foul weather suits that really kept us warm. One of the staff later mentioned that they cost $400 each - we missed them as soon as we took them off to board the bus back to the car.

Wish I'd had one when I drove up Mt. Wellington and saw SNOW for the first time since we moved here. It's not just a great pastry wrapped beef dish, Wellington, but also a stunning view of Hobart.

Play stop rewind

I remember in high school, back before one could download an artist's entire discography in minutes, that I'd listen to certain albums again and again. I'd go to bed with a cd on repeat play- I even want to say that I listened the Cure's Faith album more times in my sleep than awake.

I think you've found a new favorite song when you listen halfway through and then start it over because you don't want it to end. I think in that way I've recently rediscovered New Order. I have their early albums in heavy rotation and can't seem to find my way through the end of their "Age of Consent".

Monday, August 10, 2009


My boss came in and showed me an apple with many small bites in it. He also said that some of his papers have small paw prints on them. We think that there's a possum living in our office. Can't even make that kind of thing up if I tried.

The strange thing is that this isn't the first time this has happened- a month or two ago one of our programmers had his tea collection raided and spread about the floor. We haven't ruled out the possibility of it being a drop bear.

I sometimes expect to wander into a new part of our campus and find a trough of unexploded ordinance... I never realized how thin the veil was between us and the fangs of the wild.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Get new posts by email

Hi everyone... seems like forever since I've written, it's been a whirlwind at work, travel, a visit from my mom. Lots to catch up on. We're headed to Tasmania this week.

In the meantime though, check out the new feature. Subscribe to the blog using the form on the right and you'll get an email (hopefully, fingers crossed) whenever there's a new post. Neat, right? I figured it out from the instructions on this page here.